Artist Lisbeth Lunda has recently launched her new project See-Soul-Sound created in collaboration with Kasper Eistrup, the frontman of the Danish alternative rock band Kashmir. She shares her thoughts on art, music and life in her dream city, Copenhagen.
It is probably not a surprise that some popular songs or musical pieces were once inspired by paintings: the Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is responsible for Claude Debussy’s La Mer. Don McLean, the author of Starry, Starry Night, drew inspiration straight from Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Or, recently, Viva la Vida by Coldplay owes its name to Kahlo’s Viva la Vida, Watermelons, whilst What I Saw in the Water sparked the creativity of Florence and the Machine and resulted in What the Water Gave Me. The reverse is also true: 19th and 20th century European artists, such as Kandinsky, Mondrian and Matisse, sought to create a symbiosis between the art forms, such as music and painting. Their goal was to find the ultimate synthetic art form. “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music” – pronounced art critic and author Walter Pater in 1877. The quest that began back then has never stopped.
It is precisely for this reason that the new project See-Soul-Sound, launched by the Copenhagen artist Lisbeth Lunda, has caught my attention. Her new inspiring series of artworks combine painting and music in a synthetic manner. The project itself has a performative aspect and strives to achieve a multi-media effect: it was born of interaction with the famous frontman of the Danish alternative rock-band Kashmir, and brings together word, image and sound. The new series are not about exploring formal parallels in music and painting, but rather about their overlapping meanings and expressive means. Each artwork bears the title of the original Kashmir song and is accompanied by the corresponding lyrics. Lisbeth has been the fan of the band for decades and knows their discography inside out. “I love music and cannot imagine my life without it. So, this project is a tribute to my favourite musicians and their songs” – explains Lunda.
The six new paintings of the See-Soul-Sound series were all done in 2020, during the quarantine lockdown. These are: Surfing the Warm Industry, Break of the Avalanche, Lampshade, In the Sand, Petite Machine and She’s Made of Chalk1.
Even though the paintings’ titles correspond to the names of the songs, they are in no way illustrative – they are separate entities that can be appreciated independently on their own. However, when sound, poetry and image come together, they form a powerful symbiosis. In the process of viewing, as one listens to the music and lyrics of each corresponding song, the paintings instantly acquire extra layers of meaning. Simultaneously, the music and lyrics take on a visual form, while the viewer interacts with the artwork in an immersive fashion. So, how has this all become possible?
Early in 2019 Lisbeth Lunda contacted the musicians of the Kashmir rock-band, primarily Kasper Eistrup, the author and performer of the songs, with the request to allow his selected songs to feature alongside some of her paintings. The musician gave his official permission, and this is how the project started off. As the exhibition opened on August 13, Eistrup sent his greetings and congratulations to Lisbeth Lunda.
Logically, at this point, a question arose, if Eistrup, a Danish leading rock-star and also a successful painter in his own right (his portrait of HRH Crown Prince Frederik, 'Lancier' was commissioned by The Museum of National History on the occasion of the Crown Prince's 50th birthday), was difficult to approach. Lunda replied: “No, not at all. On having considered my project, he gave his wholehearted support and was very friendly and approachable. I was so happy that he gave his permission and allowed me to use his lyrics for my project!” Overall, the See-Soul-Sound project will consist of twelve paintings (so, the six ones exhibited in August, are the first part of the project). The next two paintings out of the remaining six, will be titled Ether - Rocket Brothers. Lunda plans to complete the second part of the project within next year.
Lunda’s new series of paintings have their own backstories, rooted in her own childhood and life experiences. There is less introspection in these new compositions (unlike in her previous works), their characters fully engage with the viewer and relate their stories. This time, it is more about the dialogue and connection. There is a certain fairy-tale-like quality to the new paintings, somewhat reminding of a great Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. Surprisingly, Lunda agrees: “In a way, I feel like a narrator, not only a painter. Each artwork represents a certain reality, it tells a story, and I feel more like a story-teller, who brings hidden narratives to life”. Perhaps, it is not completely by chance that Lunda’s Copenhagen art studio is just a short walking distance away from the legendary Little Mermaid sculpture.
Several new works have an arresting quality that keeps the viewer lingering on in front of them. Surfing the Warm Industry instantly makes one wonder about Lunda’s own narrative. Apparently, it corresponds to Lisbeth’s own experience of working in a big commercial organisation in the advertising and entertainment industry. Despite the striking imagery, the painting is very feminist in its tenor and message. It points to the industry’s misogynist ethos, its repressive and competitive character. In the foreground one sees a young blonde girl surrounded by silverback gorillas – symbols of the corporate world. Just to remind: a silverback is typically a gorilla male more than 12 years of age, and is named so for the distinctive patch of silver hair on his back, signalling maturity. In the composition, these three figures are the symbols of alpha males that rule the corporate world. According to Lunda, one of them is the top leader, the other one is his indispensable aide, who also wields considerable power, while the third one behind them is power-thirsty and ready to do anything to take the position of the first two ones. He is the “really scheming and evil one”.
The silverback gorillas appear to be led by the young and innocent-looking girl in the foreground. This way, the composition visually reverses the clichés of corporate hierarchy where alpha males lead and females follow. The artist turns the tables on corporate ethos by representing the bosses as silverback gorillas who follow the young female and, possibly, act as her bodyguards. Overall, the work seems to be about taming the industry’s movers and shakers, or in other words, – about the female empowerment in the corporate setting and the major role women could play in big businesses.
Break of the Avalanche is another painting that looks back to Lisbeth’s childhood and her relationship with her late father. The painting dwells on the issues of acceptance and rejection, belonging and feeling isolated, attachment and estrangement. The figures of the girl and her father (his face is hidden behind the mask) seem to be symbiotically merged together. Simultaneously, the girl appears to be willing to break away from this symbiosis, become her own self. The heroine’s gesture is particularly indicative of this, as she simultaneously clings to her father’s shoulder and pushes him away. The figure of the man in the mask seems to be leaning away from her and appears limp and enervate, as if unable to stand on its own. His hand is clutched into a feast (something that Lunda refers to in her personal mythology as a “weak hand”, for one is unable to do much with their hands clutched and energy bound). The scene itself is an embodiment of a dysfunctional and somewhat toxic relationship. Exactly, as in the eponymous song:
So, I shiver for you,
As you tremble for me,
I step on your shoes,
I trip on your heels.
However, there is a glimpse of hope even amidst the gloom, for the butterflies held in the little girl’s hand herald resurrection, restoration and healing.
She’s Made of Chalk addresses the issue of suicide. The painting depicts a young girl with a halo, her saint-like figure set against the golden-leaf background, reminiscent of medieval paintings. Although presented frontally, the girl is completely immersed in her own thoughts and distances from the viewer by averting her gaze. She lost connection with the outer world, and even though a butterfly is pulling a strand of her hair, as if attempting to bring her back to reality, the girl seems to resist. The work remarkably resonates with the eponymous song and its lyrics written about an isolated suicidal girl. The tone of the song is compassionate and sympathetic, seeking to restore the heroine’s basic trust in the world and people. This artwork curiously relates to another painting in the series, the Lampshade. At least, they both can be perceived as the images of the victim and the abuser.
In the words of Lisbeth Lunda, the Lampshade represents one of these charming, wily, abusive and ruthless characters in top positions. In her own words, “he is like a Harvey Weinstein type. He is important, seemingly pleasant and courteous, but he is a monster”. The accompanying lyrics, if somewhat ironic, are even more convincing:
Cheerful and swollen he waves from his seat in a Rover That is his car
You wouldn't doubt him to shake the most powerful hands of importance,
Changing the world as we know it by leaving his ink,
To judge from the fence round his house he must love all his children,
That's what you think…
The suspense builds up further with the words:
Like the dog has a chain clinging tied to its neck,
This man is tied to his secrecy.
The ageing man in the painting looks deceptively harmless and somewhat eccentric, with a collared parakeet perched on his shoulder. The major clue, however, is the pistol, disguised as a walking stick and held in the protagonist’s hand. His figure is shrouded in darkness and the background is thick black. If the silverbacks in Surfing the Warm Industry are overtly aggressive, this character is disarmingly non-threatening. Such people manage to climb the top of the career ladder and concentrate immense power in their hands with disastrous consequences for others. Like the song, the painting has the aura of dangerous mystery about it. One can break the secrecy of the character only at one’s own peril, risking one’s livelihood or even the life itself.
Two other works, Petite Machine and In the Sand, are dealing with the idea of unconditional, compassionate, idealistic love and with yearning for such love.
Technically, Lunda’s paintings appear to have developed some new features. Preferring flat surfaces and frontal compositions (which give her works a certain medieval feel), the artist began to combine those with the areas worked in thick impasto. In fact, some of them, as in Lampshade or Petite Machine, acquire a relief-like quality, adding texture and three-dimensionality to her works. The contrast of flat and relief-like surfaces, the clash of two-and three-dimensionality adds conflict and intrigue to her compositions. For instance, in Petite Machine, the figures of lovers (the composition made me think of Klimt’s Kiss) locked in an intimate embrace, are visually joined together by the golden relief-like patch that also appears as their rich ornamental tunics. The use of gold leaf in She’s Made of Chalk recalls medieval "gold-ground" paintings, illuminated manuscripts and early mosaics.
In her own practice Lunda seems to combine various methods that help her attain the desired expressive quality. The artist uses acrylic paints, but her colour palette is restricted to yellows, reds, blues, blacks, whites and browns – an unmistakable characteristic of her signature artistic style and painterly manner.
Among her influences, Lunda lists the art of the Middle Ages and early Italian Renaissance, early Modernist art of the 20th century. However, she also admitted drawing inspiration from the absurdist surrealist and grotesque works by the Danish artist Michael Kvium.
Overall, Lunda has artistically and conceptually advanced since her previous exhibition in London. Apparently, the recent Covid-19 troubles were instrumental in that, as the lockdown prompted her to concentrate on her work, and her artistic output doubled. She admitted that previously it took her at least a month and longer to finish a painting, but this year she was able to produce two paintings per month. Even though the artist complains that the city “looked empty, sad, and lonely”, she seems to have benefitted from the situation.
Strolling the City with Lisbeth Lunda
Now, that life gradually resumes its usual rhythm and the city is buzzing with energy and bursting with sunshine (it was probably as hot, as in Italy while I was staying in Copenhagen), Lunda is happy to be out of the isolation of her studio. “The energy circulating in the city around me also affects my energy levels” – confesses the artist. “It is astonishing how interconnected everything is”. Indeed, Copenhagen is a vibrant city offering a variety of experiences for culture vultures and foodies alike.
As there are various references to Copenhagen in her paintings, and the city dominates her life and her work, we have suggested that, as a local, Lisbeth provides a small itinerary for those who would come on a short visit (2 or three days) to Copenhagen, and perhaps, to her current and future exhibitions.
If you would like to experience Lisbeth’s everyday surroundings, start exploring the city with Langelinie. You can walk along the harbour banks and stroll towards the Little Mermaid. Be prepared that the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue) is a remarkably small landmark. It was commissioned by brewery magnate Carl Jacobsen in 1909 and was cast by sculptor Edvard Eriksen, whose wife, Eline, was the model. Don’t miss two green-domed pavilions on quayside beyond the Little Mermaid. It is there that the Danish royal family gathers before boarding their yacht called the Dannebrog.
From there you can set off for Kastellet – one of the best-preserved fortresses in Europe, constructed in the form of a pentagon, with its ramparts, moats and bastions, now peaceful and picturesque. Today, it is a beautiful natural park that provides artistic and peaceful environment in the midst of the busy city. If you enter Kastellet from the harbour, don’t miss the imposing Gefion Fountain, with a powerful Norse goddess Gefjon (goddess of ploughing and fertility) being driven by oxen pulling a plow.
Nyhavn (New Harbour) is a waterfront entertainment area. Even several decades ago it was a seedy haunt for sailors, shadowy types and girls of easy virtue, but today it is a completely respectable and beautiful area of the city, a waterside attraction with its picturesque fishing boats, young street musicians performing nearby and delicious food available until the small hours in the morning.
As an artist, Lisbeth founds inspiring her occasional incursions into Christiania – a “freetown”, a city within a city – a safe haven for hippies, dreamers, and non-conformists since 1970s, when a band of squatters moved into the abandoned army barracks with the aim to create a self-sustaining community, free from the shackles of the state. Today it sits on the edge of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhood. It is one of the most important music venues, with its own art galleries, bars and shops. You should explore it if you are looking to experience city’s relaxed bohemian and artistic atmosphere.
If you are tired of exploring the area and need some nourishment, go to Lola restaurant, perched on a hill close to Christiania. It is one of the most delicious restaurants offering fusion cuisine. Housed in the old 17th century mill-house, Lola offers remarkable scenic views. It is particularly charming in summertime. And don’t forget to book your table in advance – the place is very popular among the Danes themselves!
Marmorkirken is referred to in She’s Made of Chalk. Properly called Frederiks Kirken, the church was built using Norwegian marble. It was designed by the architect Nicolai Eigtved in 1740 and was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Its dome, one of the largest in Europe, has a diameter of 31 metres. Mind, that it usually opens for viewing around 12.30 every day, otherwise, it may be difficult to access it at other times. You can combine your trip to Marmorkirken with the visit to Amalienborg, the home of the Danish Royal family. Explore the rococo and classical interiors and watch the change of the guard.
Another church to visit in the Latin Quarter of the city is Trinitatis Kirke, or the Holy Trinity Church. Its present Baroque interior with boxed pews with seashell carvings, a dark wood pulpit and a gold and silver organ are a must-see. If you are not lucky and the church is closed, you can look at its interior through the glass door from the Round Tower (Rundetårn) that also houses a science museum and offers breath-taking panoramic views over Copenhagen. Apart from the cityscape, you will get the idea of its soundscape, as well, as churches around the city strike each new hour. The Round Tower was built on orders of King Christian IV in 1642. As the King was a keen astronomer, it was meant to become his observatory. The top of the tower is very easy to access as you have to go up the spiralling internal ramp. Apparently, as Lisbeth explains it, the ramp was built, so the king could ride his horse all the way up to the top of the tower.
Statens Museum for Kunst, or the National Gallery holds a strong collection of the European Medieval, Renaissance, Mannerist, Baroque and Rococo art. Look out for Mantegna’s Christ as the Suffering Redeemer, Filippino Lippi’s Meeting of Joachim and Anna, Melancholy by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Salvator Rosa’s Democritus in Meditation, Bust of Camilla Barbadori by young Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, Rembrandt’s Sketch for the Knight with the Falcon, iconic portrait of Madame Matisse, or the Green Stripe, by Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani’s Alice, works by Hammershoi, Per Kirkeby and other outstanding European artists. It is worth spending a day there, if you have time.
Rosenborg Castle, situated nearby the Statens Museum for Kunst, was originally built as a summer residence for King Christian IV in 1606-1634 in the area that once used to be the tranquil countryside. It stands surrounded by the moat and gardens (now the Kongens Have park). This was Christian IV’s favourite castle, and many rooms retain their original Renaissance décor. If you need to see the late Renaissance or Mannerist interiors of the late 16th and early 17th century, you should visit this castle. Admire the Winter Room, the Marble Hall and the Knight’s Hall with occasional studiolo-type cabinets, full of curiosities and precious artworks. The castle also has been used as the king’s treasury since 1658. You will be amazed at the Denmark’s Crown Jewels and beautiful ambassadorial gifts displayed in this part of the castle. And do not forget, that the ticket you buy for the castle also allows you to visit the National Gallery for no extra cost. So, keep the ticket.
1The exhibition, which was the first part of the project, ran in the cosy gallery at Bredgade, 22, right in the heart of the historical city, between 13th and 25th August. The second part of the project – another six paintings, for the whole series consists of twelve works – will be exhibited in 2021, between September 8-21. There will be further exhibitions of Lisbeth's work in September 2020 in Big Bio Nordhavn (from September 13 onwards) and Helligåndskirken (September 30).